Homelessness in a coastal town called Portship

Communities and individuals coming together to help the most vulnerable this winter

A night shelter scheme has been established by the churches of a port town on the South coast of England which I have anonymized under the pseudonym of Portship.

As an academic writer the ethics of anonymity and confidentiality were instilled into me during my training and so the names of people and places have been fictionalized.

Portship has some 30,000 inhabitants and it is economically and socially depressed. Industries, which supported the port, have now disappeared along with shops, department stores and night time cultural life. Many shops are boarded up and these defunct doorway entrances now provide shelter for our many homeless. Well at least they are now useful for something a cynic might say.

Lives are blighted by homelessness and when the council undertook an audit of rough sleepers at the end of November there were 20, an increase of 7 from 2017.

This increase is worrying yet would still be worrying whatever the number. During the big freeze last year which came late in the winter (the Beast from the East) there was a death, ironically and cruelly, someone sleeping rough outside a hotel. This was one of our national hotel chains- but again this must remain anonymous. All this is very upsetting, representing a waste of human potentiality and also, more immediately, a life experience of painful suffering in the cold. It is unsettling to remain tucked up warmly in bed during minus temperatures when you know there are people on the streets exposed to this misery.

So, I have set the scene.

Part, but only part, of the solution in Portship has been found by a network of churches working together. This blog does not aim to extol religion, but it does express the action undertaken by Christian groups in the town, led by someone who has set up a network of night shelters, which work throughout the winter months. The different Christian church denominations- Catholic, C of E. Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals etc.- have joined together to provide food and accommodation on each night of the week from the beginning of December to the middle of March.

Two years ago, I volunteered for the night shift in the Catholic church shelter on Thursday nights from 9.30pm until 6.30am on Friday morning. This is a tough shift because for me a late middle-aged man, sleep is not as easy to come by as when, as a twenty something, I could sleep ‘on a clothes line’.

I took a break last year and this year I have volunteered for the soft option, the ‘welcome shift’, which runs from 6.00pm until 9.30 pm when the hardy night volunteers take over.

There is then a breakfast shift who turn up at 6.00am to prepare a breakfast which is served at 6.30am. This consists of hot buttered toast with or without jam/marmalade etc, cereals and hot drinks of tea and instant coffee.

There is a family atmosphere which the volunteers and client have established. I sincerely believe we are building a community which I will tell you about in my next blog where I will narrate some of the people I have met and stories I have heard – anonymously to respect the principles of confidentiality.

Until my next blog.

Bye for now

David Evans

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